2014 Topaz Medallion for Excellence in Architectural Education
Harrison Fraker, Assoc. AIA | Notes of Interest
By Sara Fernández Cendón, AIArchitect
Harrison Fraker, Assoc. AIA, who pushed the academic study of energy use in buildings to the forefront of the sustainability movement through decades of painstaking research, is the recipient of the 2014 AIA/ACSA Topaz Medallion for Excellence in Architectural Education. Jointly awarded by the AIA and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA), the Topaz Medallion honors an individual who has been intensely involved in architecture education for a decade or more. Fraker’s accomplishments will be celebrated at the annual ACSA convention in Miami in April, and at the AIA National Convention in June.
In 1968, shortly after earning an M.F.A. in architecture, Harrison Fraker became a studio lecturer at Princeton University, his alma mater. His teaching then focused on introductory design studios—the design foundation for many students who have become leaders in the profession both as practitioners and as academics. As his research and expertise developed in later years at Princeton, Fraker’s focus shifted onto the development of a new course exploring energy in architecture.
In partnership with engineering colleagues, Fraker established the Center for Environmental Studies in 1972, an interdisciplinary center focused on understanding how buildings interact with the environment funded through an initial grant from the National Science Foundation. The Center (now part of the Princeton Environmental Institute) helped establish a scientific interest in researching energy efficiency in buildings, long since recognized as a key weapon against global climate change. To apply knowledge gained through this research, Fraker launched two professional-practice partnerships in 1973: Harrison Fraker Architects (HFA), to design environmentally responsible buildings; and the Princeton Energy Group (PEG), to conduct applied research and provide energy design assistance to other architects.
William Braham, FAIA, met Fraker at Princeton during this period. In his letter supporting Fraker’s nomination, Braham, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Master of Environmental Building Design program, wrote that Fraker’s dual approach uniquely brought together a serious technical research unit with an ambitious design practice. “It was one of the most exciting experiences of my career, and in some ways I am still trying to recover that sense of adventure and purpose that surrounded Harrison,” he wrote in a letter of recommendation.
While PEG developed energy monitoring tools, HFA created more than a dozen passive solar houses, as well as passive solar and naturally cooled offices and libraries. An early sign of success, the firm’s very first project, the Princeton Blairstown Education Center, won an Owens Corning Energy Design Award in 1974. For the next decade, PEG and HFA were at the forefront of sustainable building research and design.
The Minnesota years
In 1984, Fraker was recruited to head the architecture school at the University of Minnesota. In his first year on the job, his fundraising efforts were so successful (he helped raise $8.5 million) and his vision so compelling that he gained administration support for the creation of a new College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, established in 1989. The College included the new Design Center for the American Urban Landscape (DCAUL), which brought together faculty, practitioners, and the community in an interdisciplinary academic setting that was a more engaged and civically active urban planning resource than the previous program. Over time, Fraker’s school helped reimagine St. Paul’s relationship to the Mississippi River, transformed old trolley routes into new light rail transit corridors, redesigned public housing, and restored wetlands to promote neighborhood renewal.
“Through all these efforts, and at times when architecture seemed tempted to retreat into more limited and self-referential concerns, Harrison stood out for his clear vision of how the university and its design resources could and must actively participate in shaping the city which hosted it, with mutually beneficial pedagogical and real world benefits,” wrote AIA Thomas Jefferson Award recipient and principal of Greenberg Consultants Ken Greenberg, AIA, in a letter supporting Fraker’s nomination.
Fraker’s success as an academic administrator led to numerous requests to consult and advise other institutions, which he accommodated while still finding time to teach (six design studios during his tenure as dean) and serve as a thesis advisor to students.
Berkeley and beyond
In 1996, Fraker left the University of Minnesota and joined the University of California-Berkeley as dean of its College of Environmental Design. “Of course he arrived with many lofty agendas, only to learn some months later that [his] building [Wurster Hall] was ranked the most seismically dangerous on campus,” wrote Adèle Naudé Santos, FAIA, dean of the MIT School of Architecture + Planning, in a recommendation letter. Naudé Santos was on UC Berkeley’s faculty when Fraker became dean. “In good [spirits] as usual, he raised money for the retrofitting, built [and designed] a temporary building for his faculty, and improved the building enormously. The temporary building proved to be a good meeting place for the faculty. Around the courtyard we were able to socialize, build new relationships, and become an integrated faculty. I suspect this was also part of his strategic plan—to create success out of disorder!”
During his 12-year tenure as dean at UC Berkeley, Fraker also raised nearly $40 million in endowments for programs and chairs. He was actively involved in the development of the UC Berkeley campus, serving as chair of the campus design review. Also at UC Berkeley, Fraker continued teaching. One of his studios, focused on the Chinese city of Tianjin, was not only a model of international interdisciplinary collaboration, it also was a catalyst for the development of Fraker’s EcoBlock concept of whole-systems, zero-carbon neighborhood design.
After stepping down as dean in 2008, Fraker went on a year-long sabbatical to document performance data from first-generation sustainable neighborhoods, work that became the subject of his book The Hidden Potential of Sustainable Neighborhoods: Lessons from Low-Carbon Communities (Island Press), published in September. He continues to teach both undergraduate and graduate studios in the United States and abroad. Last year, Fraker was appointed chair of the UC Berkeley Energy and Resources Group, an interdisciplinary program established in 1973, where he continues to explore the relationship between energy, resources, and the environment.
Photo Credit© Harrison Fraker
© Regents of the University of California
Harrison Fraker, Assoc. AIA
The Topaz Medallion for Excellence in Architectural Education is awarded jointly by the AIA and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) to an individual—who must be living at the time of nomination—who has spent at least a decade primarily involved in architectural education and whose primary contribution to architectural education has taken place on the North American continent.
Robert Greenstreet, Intl. Assoc. AIA Honored with 2013 AIA/ACSA Topaz Medallion
George Baird, Intl. Assoc. AIA, Awarded the 2012 Topaz Medallion for Excellence in Architectural Education
Larry Speck, FAIA, Awarded the 2011 AIA/ACSA Topaz Medallion for Excellence in Architectural Education
2014 Topaz Jury
- Gregory A. Kessler, FAIA, Chair
- Washington State University
- Pullman, Washington
- Westin Conahan, AIAS Representative
- University of Nevada
- Las Vegas
- Donlyn Lyndon, FAIA
- University of California
- Wendy Ornelas, FAIA
- Manhattan, Kansas
- Sarah Whiting, Assoc. AIA
- Rice University